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New Business Models for University Presses

Open access as the primary model of publication

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 A small group of scholarly publishers have adopted online, open access publication as their primary model, usually with print editions offered for sale. Print sales help support overall publication costs, but institutional support is a significant part of the business model for these publishers. These publishers include 1) recently-established university presses launched as primarily digital, open access enterprises; 2) two publishers associated with major research enterprises, the National Academies and the RAND Corporation; and 3) a consortium of European university presses experimenting with open access publishing on a significant scale.[2]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 University presses that have adopted this model include Rice, Athabasca, and the Australian National University E-Press. Rice, which offered its authors a way to use a range of multimedia— audio files, hyperlinks, and moving images—to craft dynamic scholarly arguments, used the open-source e-publishing platform, Connexions. However, Rice University withdrew funding for the Press in September 2010, although the university has indicated that it will continue to support Connexions. Among the reasons cited were the fact that print sales did not live up to expectations and therefore greater institutional support would be required.[3]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Operating on a much larger scale, the National Academies Press (NAP) and the RAND Corporation make all of their publications openly available. Their financial sustainability models—combining publishing income, chargeback institutional services, and some direct support (offices, payroll services, IT infrastructure)—are useful to sketch out, as a contrast to most university presses’ current business models.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The National Academies Press publishes about 180 books a year from the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Research Council, collectively known as the National Academies.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The National Academies rely primarily on experts who volunteer to participate in developing reports on substantial questions asked by Congress, federal or state agencies or by non- governmental entities such as foundations. Funds for travel, lodging, internal staff support, and overhead costs are provided when a study is requested. The internal review process is robust, but external to the press. Consequently, NAP’s editorial acquisition costs are nonexistent, though editorial services such as indexing, copyediting, and art acquisition remain, along with other publishing functions such as project management, design, composition, marketing, website development, finance, printing, and distribution.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Since 1994, NAP has made every page of every new book readable free online on its website, while selling printed books through both traditional outlets and online. Since that time, it has run its own servers and website, developed its own digital production and page-presentation infrastructure, and built its own discovery tools.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 3 NAP has carefully studied and shared the results of different online digital strategies for offering online content: in different formats (HTML and PDF), unbundled into chapter PDFs, and at a range of price points.[4] A key discovery was that the availability of HTML versions did not erode print sales, but that free PDFs can. In 2003, NAP began selling PDFs on its site, while at the same time making those PDFs available for free download to developing countries. In 2004, it began making PDFs of special-interest, low-audience reports—about half of their titles—available free to everyone.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 About 30% of NAP’s sales come through its online site; sales of digital versions (PDFs) accounted for less than 10% of overall sales in 2009-2010. There were 500,000 PDFs downloaded for free in 2009. In 2010, NAP had more than 4,500 titles available on its site.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 NAP’s long experiment in openness has made a few lessons clear, according to NAP Director Barbara Kline Pope: “We’re in perpetual transition. As reading habits and expectations change among our customers and our leadership, we’ve had to adapt our online reading experience, our staffing, essentially all of our approaches to fulfilling the main missions of self-sustainability and dissemination.” Prior to 2004, NAP could make the case that open access increased sales, because it enabled reader discovery far more than it supplanted purchases. “Since then, it’s become increasingly clear that free content can compete with book sales,” Pope continues. “For us, that hasn’t meant ‘quit being open,’ but rather ‘find ways to improve efficiencies and increase the universe of people who find us, to remain open while also being sustainable.’”

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 NAP has a combination of chargeback mechanisms that are used to support those books that are small-audience, highly technical reports, which are made free in PDF to anyone. So, for about half of the books published, preprinting costs are covered by direct contracts within the institution. The other half follow a standard publishing model, with publishing costs invested by NAP and supported by sales. While not yet requiring direct subvention, NAP does receive support for website IT and executive compensation from its host institution. In addition, NAP historically has had the benefit of knowing that, if necessary, the institution would cover some annual deficits.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 By providing valuable marketing, promotion, and dissemination services to its institution by way of about sixteen million website visitors a year to its books, NAP has been given freedom to innovate. As Michael Jensen, then Director of Publishing Technologies, has said, “Part of our service to the institution is to give its reports Internet authority that is equal to the institution’s longstanding scientific authority.”[5]

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit public policy research organization, publishes approximately 250 monographs, reports, and papers a year. RAND research is supported by a global clientele that includes government agencies, foundations, and private-sector firms. Additionally, philanthropic contributions, combined with earnings from RAND’s endowment, support innovative research on issues crucial to the policy debate but that reach beyond the boundaries of traditional client funding.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Peer review and quality oversight are undertaken via external review, for which an honorarium is paid, as well as internal review by research staff experts in the field and program managers. RAND publishes only the results of research conducted through the corporation. Editorial services such as indexing, copyediting, and proofreading, along with other publishing functions such as project management, design, and initial printing and distribution, are paid for by project funds, by the business units, or through discretionary corporate funds.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Publication of RAND research is managed by the Publications and Creative Services department. The department operates as a cost center and charges a blended hourly rate back to the projects, which includes the costs for labor (including fringe and computing costs), occupancy, and general and administrative expense. In addition, the department has a small overhead budget that funds minimal marketing efforts to promote major new research, to coordinate sales through a distributor, and to convert key titles to various e-book formats for sale through more than a dozen different vendors. Ongoing printing and distribution costs are also covered with overhead funds and offset by sales revenue.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 RAND disseminates its research findings as widely as possible as part of its public service mission. Since 1998, all new publicly available documents are automatically published as a free PDF download on the RAND website. Hard copies of the documents can also be purchased from the RAND site, as well as a number of other traditional outlets. As a result of a recent effort to post legacy documents to the site, there are now approximately 10,000 reports available as free PDFs via the RAND website.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 The RAND website is managed by the corporate IT department, in conjunction with the Office of External Affairs’ web communications group. The RAND publishing program’s focus is to maximize impact, rather than focusing on sales revenue and self-sustainability. In 2009, RAND made a decision to price all e-books at $9.95. “The ongoing cost of selling e-books is much lower [in RAND’s publishing model] than managing print, warehousing, and fulfillment, and we are passing this savings along,” says Jane Ryan, Director of Publishing and Creative Services. In FY09, RAND sold 59,000 printed documents through various channels, but more importantly for the corporation’s mission, there were 4.2 million downloads of its PDFs.[6]

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 RAND has seen a decline in demand for printed products over the past two years as the number of downloads continues to escalate. Ryan says, “There has been an increased demand for e-books through our distribution partners, and that is where we are currently focusing our marketing efforts.” Readability on e-readers and smart phones is an important issue, especially given the complex nature of RAND publications, which often include complex tables, figures, and math.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Different models, similar goals:

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 RAND and NAP’s approach is sometimes called “mission-driven publishing,” but has drivers somewhat different from the “mission-driven publishing” of university presses as discussed in the ITHAKA report, “University Publishing in a Digital Age,” released in 2007.[7]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 NAP operates as a predominantly independent publisher, and is expected by its parent institution to operate on a revenue-neutral basis through sales, chargebacks, and fees. RAND does not expect to recoup prepress publication costs through sales. Both are expected to provide the mission-critical benefit of broad dissemination.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 The costs of peer review found in most university presses are absent from NAP’s budget—peer review is conducted by a separate division at the National Academies, while RAND pays external reviewers a nominal fee and internal review is overseen by a cross-functional team of experts. Both organizations can be assured of the quality and accuracy of their publications through this institutional review process. Unlike most university presses, they are unable to focus acquisition, marketing and promotion to a few selected areas of strength; they are required to publish all that is produced, without thought of market demand; and they are encouraged by their institutions and authors to be as open as possible.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 NAP and RAND’s approaches to outreach and dissemination can be instructive, but because their publications all derive from their parent institutions, they have a different role within those institutions than the traditional university press, and operate in a different financial environment. For market success, university presses build lists in specific scholarly arenas, and rarely publish more than 10 percent of their authors from within their own institutions.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 2 Both NAP and RAND also have the benefit of significant institutional stature. As presses, they do not confer authority via selection and publication; rather, they publish the works of known authoritative quality. This difference from university presses is not minor—neither RAND nor NAP is at risk of seeming to diminish the significance of the publication by making it “free online.”

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 1 Neither NAP nor RAND pays royalties to their authors. For university presses, royalties are a relatively small proportion of overall costs, but can loom large in terms of the concerns of their authors. NAP and RAND’s authors, and institutions, want dissemination, influence, and impact; their authors are jockeying neither for tenure nor windfall royalties.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 RAND’s publishing department and the National Academies Press have significantly different tactical drivers, yet have similar strategic objectives. They both use open content as a means of achieving the primary objectives of maximal dissemination, substantial impact, and significant influence. Their sustainability is primarily associated with their success in meeting their mission goals.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 University presses, while pressed to make their content more open, have a different set of challenges surrounding sustainability and openness. Their editorial programs are very different, with greater emphasis on the humanities and social sciences (HSS), resulting in significant implications for editorial and marketing costs as well as sources of revenue. University presses draw their authors from a broader universe and must often compete with other publishers for content. Their authors usually expect royalties, production values, and marketing that add significantly to the costs of publication. University presses’ lists typically do not attract sales from government and corporations to any significant extent, but instead depend on sales to consumers (a volatile market) and institutions (a shrinking market). Perhaps most significantly, they are not so closely linked to their parent institutions as are NAP and RAND, because they focus their publishing programs on specific fields rather than on work produced within their home institutions. This fact, plus the historic pattern of relying primarily on sales to support publishing costs, has meant that university presses typically receive little or no direct support from their home institutions. University presses that aim to make a significant proportion, if not all, of their publications available on an open access basis face a particular challenge, given that they, like university presses generally, base their publishing on excellence in certain fields rather than a tight institutional connection.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 A new experiment in open access publishing, Open Access in European Networks (OAPEN), seeks to develop a new model for the open access university press by supporting publication through a combination of publication fees, grant support, and institutional support. Based at the Amsterdam University Press, OAPEN (http://www.oapen.org) offers monographs in the humanities and social sciences as of fall 2010. The consortium includes eight other European presses and has received start-up funding from the European Union. OAPEN plans to launch the OAPEN Library with about 750 titles, primarily backlist but also including some new books, increasing to about 1300 titles by mid-2011. Thereafter, the goal is to issue another 400 to 1000 titles annually. Individual publishers within the consortium will make their own policy decisions about the number and type of titles to be included. Amsterdam intends to publish most new titles in the collection, regardless of funding; exceptions will be heavily illustrated books, texts, reference, and trade books. Several other publishers expect to follow a similar policy, while others will include books only if a publication fee is provided.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 The OAPEN publication model is being promoted through several pilot projects in different European countries. In the Netherlands, a pilot program including 50 books will be published over the next two years, with funding from the Dutch national research council. A similar pilot in the UK will be managed by JISC.[8]

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 2 The plan to support OAPEN through a mix of revenue sources is one of its key features, as is the effort to introduce publication fees as one of those sources. Publication fees—often called “author fees,” although they are typically paid not by authors themselves but by research grants or other institutional funds—are emerging as an important model for funding open access STM journals; but the model has yet to be tried for books, or, indeed for any type of publication in the humanities. Obstacles to instituting publication fees in HSS publications have been both cultural and financial. Since there is no tradition of fee-based publication, scholars tend to equate the model with vanity publishing. They do not enjoy the level of grant funding typical in the sciences, where research grants often cover publication fees. The cost of publishing humanistic scholarship is a further barrier. A recent report commissioned by the National Humanities Alliance, which analyzed the costs of publishing flagship journals for eight scholarly societies in the humanities and social sciences, found that the per-article cost for these journals is significantly higher than for the typical STM journal, partly because articles are typically longer but also because of the high submission rates and overhead involved in processing them.[9]

  • [2] For a more comprehensive review of open access book programs, see Janneke Adema’s March 2010 report for OAPEN, Overview of Open Access Models for E-books in the Humanities and Social Sciences, http://project.oapen.org/images/OpenAccessModels.pdf.
  • [3] Jennifer Howard, “Rice U. to Close Its Digital Press Next Month,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 10, 2010, http://chronicle. com/blogPost/Rice-U-to-Close-Its-Digital/26342/.
  • [4] On the National Academies Press experiments, see Barbara Kline Pope and P. K. Kannan, An Evaluation Study of the National Academies Press’s E-publishing Initiatives: Final Report, January 31, 2003, http://aaupnet.org/resources/mellon/nap/index.html.
  • [5] Interviews with Barbara Kline Pope and Michael Jensen conducted as part of the research for this report.
  • [6] Interview with Jane Ryan.
  • [7] Laura Brown, Rebecca Griffiths, and Matthew Rascoff, University Publishing in a Digital Age, ITHAKA, July 26, 2007, http://www. ithaka.org/ithaka-s-r/research/university-publishing-in-a-digital-age.
  • [8] Email communications from Eelco Ferwerda, Executive Director, OAPEN.
  • [9] Mary Waltham, “The Future of Scholarly Journals Publishing Among Social Science and Humanities Associations,” National Humanities Alliance, February 18, 2009, http://www.nhalliance.org/bm~doc/hssreport.pdf.
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